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10 Car Noises and What They Mean

August 19, 2020

We clean them, we give them special rooms in our homes and we’re proud of them.

Cars are everywhere and they take us everywhere we need to go. When we’re sick, they take us to the hospital – but what about when there’s something wrong with our cars?

Apart from the usual noises they make – from the rumbling engine to the humming tires – that unfamiliar ticking or clanging may be giving us a vital clue: something is wrong!

Use our guide to identifying car noises and what they mean to give your car the attention it deserves.

1. Whistling

Where is that whistling noise coming from? If you only hear this noise inside your car while driving, there is most likely an issue with your vehicle’s weather-stripping. If the whistling noise originates from under the hood, however, this sound could be a sign of something more serious:

  • Hoses are crucial parts of your engine’s cooling system, but they are also the weakest. Constant circulation of air and cooling fluid through your car’s engine can cause small cracks in hoses, breaking their vacuum seal. The whistling sound you are hearing could be air escaping through these holes.
  • If you’re still hearing whistling after your car is turned off, the noise may be coming from your car’s radiator pressure cap. This cap is designed to release excess heat from overheated coolant, but sometimes the seal of the part’s rubber gasket breaks and air leaks out.

2. Whirring

If your car is whirring and squealing for attention, chances are you have a belt problem. In addition to its many gaskets, hoses and wires, your car’s engine has several rotating belts. Over time, these belts can stretch or crack as they circulate at high speeds around a system of pulleys. Replacing worn-out belts is cheap and can save you headaches down the road.

3. Ticking

If something is ticking and clicking in your engine, check your car’s oil tank. Since they rely on lubricating oil to run smoothly, noisy pistons are often an indication of low oil levels. Before taking your car to the shop, check your car’s dipstick.

4. Sputtering

If your car sputters or continues running after removing the keys from the ignition, you may be hearing the effects of “dieseling.” In a nutshell, dieseling is when gasoline continues to ignite by compression alone in the cylinder without the aid of the sparkplug. Although this issue is somewhat limited to older engines with carburetors, as opposed to newer fuel-injected engines, do not be surprised if you hear a couple coughs from your engine after turning it off.

5. Uneven Idling

If you feel your car’s usual rhythm is off, there may be an issue with one of its sparkplugs. Sparkplugs are responsible for igniting the fuel in your car’s engine, but sometimes they burn out, short or experience breaks.

6. Loud Idling

A good engine should roar, but not too loudly. If you feel your car is more noisy than usual there could be an issue with cylinder compression. If there is an uneven air-fuel ration in the cylinder, combustion can occur at higher or lower rates than normal. Higher pressure in the cylinder can cause the engine to sound louder than usual or even produce a knocking sound. Not attending to this issue can lead to engine damage.

7. Noisy Turning

If you hear strange noises, but only when turning, there could be a problem with your car’s wheels or tires. While the issue could be as simple as low inflation or tire wear, there are other possible culprits, such as a worn wheel bearing or incorrect wheel balance.

8. Noisy Brakes

If you hear an abnormal sound when braking, have your car checked immediately as there could be an issue with your brakes or brake pads.

9. Clunks and Clangs

Hearing a large clang at every speedbump? There could be an issue with your car’s suspension. Before going to the shop, take a quick look under your car to check for a loose tailpipe or muffler.

10. Rumbling

If your car sounds like NASCAR when you accelerate, there is probably a hole in your muffler. Although holes in your muffler are not detrimental to car performance, they are dangerous since they may allow dangerous fumes to leak into the passenger compartment.

Although these noises can give you clues as to what’s wrong with your vehicle, the best thing you can do to keep your car running smoothly is to keep a regular maintenance schedule. Taking care of your car also means making sure it’s properly insured – get a quote today to get the right kind of coverage for your vehicle so that you can drive with confidence.

These tips are provided for information and prevention purposes only. They are general in nature, and Desjardins Insurance cannot be held liable for them. We recommend using caution and consulting an expert for comprehensive, tailored advice.

In Quebec, Desjardins Insurance refers to Desjardins General Insurance Inc. In Ontario and Alberta, Desjardins Insurance refers to Certas Direct Insurance Company, underwriter of automobile and property insurance.